If you consider yourself a vegan, that means that you are unable to consume or utilize the byproducts of honeybees. Ethically, eating honey feels a lot different than eating bacon. But how about environmentally? Are bee products just labeled vegan because they fit the definition?
"A person who does not eat any food derived from animals and who typically does not use other animal products" (OED).
Or, are there real environmental reasons why you should avoid beeswax and honey?
According to Dan Charles, a writer for National Public Radio, "the honeybee is perhaps the one type of bee that we should worry about the least. Honeybee hives aren't natural, and they don't help the environment".
There are over 20,000 species of bees globally, with 4,000 being native bees to the United States. The honeybee was an imported species from Europe and are comparable to agricultural animals, raised and used for their byproducts and meat. While honeybees have the ability to pollinate and contribute to a strong ecosystem much like other bee species, they are mostly valued for their contributions to the economy.
Honeybees pollinate our crops, produce honey and wax, and are relatively easy to farm. What could be the issue? Well, what people don't realize is that when environmentalists are warning that bee populations are in decline, they are not talking about the honeybees. There are 19,999 other species out there that aren't being farmed for their resources.
Photo Via: Red Bubble
These species must then compete with the overbearing honeybee populations for food. Honeybees alone are not environmentally destructive. Much like other species, they have a harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship with plants and animals. It is only when humans begin to farm bees in unnatural ways that environmental issues come into play.
If you live in a region where Honeybees are out competing other bee species, it may be best to avoid purchasing bee products.
"When flowers are abundant, there is plenty of pollen for both honeybees and their wild cousins. But in many landscapes, or when an orchard stops blooming, farmed honeybees can compete with wild bees for food, making it harder for wild species to survive." Dan Charles
You can help the bees by planting a garden in any outdoor space you may have. Select varieties of flowers that are rich in pollen.
If you want to consume or use bee products without endangering bee species, here are some questions that you can ask a local bee keeper.
Does this area have a shortage of flowers available for various bee species?
Were these bees imported?
How do you minimize the potential spread of disease and parasites in your hives?
Do you use pesticides?
Can you walk me through your process of collecting honey?
How many other species of bees are local to this area? Are they endangered?
Cover photo by: olorblokc.com